This column was written by John Nichols.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has lied so many times and in so many circumstances that he now finds himself lying about the lies.
All of his deceptive statements have been uttered in an official capacity, many of them under oath.
But as lawless as his language has been, the actions of the attorney general may well be the more serious of his high crimes and misdemeanors. Indeed, the worst crime of Alberto Gonzales may be that — with the revelations about his ghoulish visit to the sickbed of his constitutionally-inclined predecessor — this attorney general has actually forced millions of Americans to wrap their heads around the notion that John Ashcroft may have been, at least by comparison, a good guy.
What this all adds up to is the most sordid circumstance of a sitting Cabinet member since Albert Bacon Fall, Warren's Harding's Secretary of the Interior, tried to talk his way out of the Teapot Dome scandal. Fall was notoriously "so crooked they had to screw him into the ground" when he died.
With Gonzales, it is hard to say whether he is crooked or delusional, or both.
But one thing is certain: The attorney general's determination to cling to his office at this point marks him as a man who poses a threat not merely to his own reputation but to the Department of Justice, which is degenerating into crisis as top administrators exit at an alarming rate, and to the rule of law in America.
George Bush, who has been linked to many if not all of the scandals that have so vexed Gonzales, is not about to ask his former White House counsel to vacate his current digs at Justice.
So it falls to Congress to act. And while a proposed Senate vote of "no confidence" might finally tip the balance against Gonzales, it is certainly appropriate to prepare for the next act of the sorry soap opera that the attorney general's tenure has become.
The founders established clear procedures for impeaching members of the Cabinet. "The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors," reads Article 2, Section 4, of the Constitution.
No serious scholar of the original intent of the authors of the essential document of the American experiment would question that the seemingly vague "high crimes and misdemeanors" section refers to precisely the sort of deceptive and destructive activities in which Gonzales has engaged. There is simply no question that lying to Congress is an impeachable offense, and there is every reason to believe that rendering the department you head fully dysfunctional should be.
The national activist group Democracy for America, working in conjunction with Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films operation, has launched a campaign to: "Impeach Gonzales and restore accountability and ethical leadership to the United States Justice Department." This is a classic "it's-about-time" development.
As Democracy for America chair Jim Dean says, "Americans around the country are standing up to voice opposition to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his politicization of the Department of Justice," Our message is clear: Impeach Gonzales."
Within a day of the launch of the campaign, more than 40,000 Americans had already signed the online petition to impeach Gonzales, which will eventually be forwarded to members of Congress. The number of signers will rise exponentially as Greenwald's devastating series of YouTube reviews of the attorney general's incredible explanations for his actions — overlaid with the words "false" and "perjury" — makes the rounds on the internet. The videos are debuting at the new www.impeachgonzales.org.
As Democracy for America says: "Impeachment puts everything back on the table. Illegal domestic eavesdropping, illegally deleted government e-mails, voter suppression, signing statements, torture recommendations, you name it — if Gonzales had his fingerprints on it, Congress will shine the spotlight at it."
The "on the table" reference is to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's declaration that impeachment is "off the table." Up to now, Pelosi's pronouncement has kept a lot of national groups from uttering the "I" word. But no more.
Democracy for America and Greenwald are not putting impeachment on the table; Alberto Gonzales did that when he lied to Congress and the American people. But Democracy for America and Greenwald are giving the American people an opportunity to demand that Congress get serious about holding an errant executive branch to account.
Greenwald recognizes the genius of impeachment when he says, "President Bush will not fire the Attorney General, but the American people can call for his Impeachment."
Impeachment was always intended to be an organic process of the American republic. The wisest of the founders, fresh from waging revolutionary war against a lawless King George, never imagined that the impeachment and trial of errant executives would be a dull bureaucratic procedure carried out in the cloistered halls of Congress. It was supposed to be an official response to a popular call for accountability.
The call is being issued. And the greater its volume, the greater will be the likelihood that this battered republic will be rescued not merely from the dark interregnum that is the Bush era but from the misguided notion that a president and his appointees can govern as regally as did the kings of old.
By John Nichols
Reprinted with permission from the The Nation